Is the craft of lighting black and white different from color?

Posted on by

Home Forums Lighting Is the craft of lighting black and white different from color?

  • Creator
  • #214895

      In October I’m shooting my first short film in black and white. My friend is going to be the gaffer and we’re about to prepare ourselves for the shoot. We’ve only ever shot in color and the challenge of shooting in black and white will be really fun.

      I was wondering if anyone had any tips for lighting for black and white and what one might think about when shooting black and white?

      Is there any point in still thinking about which colors we’re using? Especially since it’s going to be digitally graded I figure it would be easier to isolate elements in the image if we used colors to dissect things in the frame. Should I try to shoot my main subjects in the color temperature of the cameras native white balance to try and capture the most amount of data in these areas?

    Viewing 5 replies - 1 through 5 (of 5 total)
    • Author
    • #214902

        If you shoot raw, then color temperature is usually just metadata. If you record log, then probably it would be best to shoot at whatever the color temperature of your primary light sources are for a somewhat neutral color image.

        I would consider the tonal scale value of whatever colors you use for sets and costumes — it’s one reason why old b&w movies used to dress people in browns and grays, it was just easier to judge contrast by eye that way.

        Over the century there has been all sorts of lighting styles for b&w, from the classic noir-ish era of the 1940s that most people think of, to the softer tones of 1930s films, and the more natural look of 1960s movies from Europe. I don’t think there is a right or wrong approach, it’s just that you want to think in terms of grayscale because sometimes a low-contrast image looks nice in color but too washed-out in b&w unless there are some tones in the subject that add contrast back in (for example, think of a foggy day with a man in a dark coat, which can look nice.) It can also be harder to direct the eye to the actors and separate them from the background which is why you want to think of tones and how that face is framed against the background. You don’t have to resort to backlighting, simply putting a dark edge of the subject against a highlight or vice-versa might be enough.


          I think the main thing to keep in mind is that even though in black & white photography the separation of different elements is coming primarily through contrast and composition, color definitely still matters because of tones. If you take the example of a very deep red brick house against a very purple-violet sky, the tones of those two things will actually look fairly close in B&W and it will be a much flatter image than it is in color. If you ignore color on set and then try to window everything in the grade it might end up being a fairly long and painstaking process.


            You might consider a B&W viewing filter to help judge contrast by eye (e.g. Tiffen T1 Black & White Viewing Filter). It’s also nice to just carry with you and look at things through it and get a feel for how colors work in B&W.

            You might also consider color filters for the lens (red, green, yellow) to alter varying degrees of contrast, although some prior experience might be needed when using these.


              I have to add, the viewing filter is still quite far from true B&W, it’s more like looking through a dense ND, but it could help someone not familiar with B&W get a feeling for what basically happens with colors in B&W.


                Sorry, I take back the B&W viewing finder recommendation, just tested my old one, it’s not working well enough on reds and yellows.

              Viewing 5 replies - 1 through 5 (of 5 total)
              • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.